For the next couple of months, folks in Southeast Missouri have a golden opportunity to witness something magical in the outdoors: bugling bull elk.
Elk are a native species to Missouri but were eliminated long ago. In 2011, the Department of Conservation began a restoration program centered around the Peck Ranch Conservation Area in northwest Carter County, and today, more than 175 roam the Ozarks.
If you’ve never heard a bugling bull elk, you need to make a trip to Peck Ranch to do so. If you’re not used to it, it’s a sound which will send chills up and down your spine.
Beginning in late September, bull elk begin screaming out their shrill, high-pitched bugle calls as their mating season kicks in, and on a calm morning, those calls can be heard a mile away.
Bugling peaks in the latter half of October and tapers off by early November. However, it continues sporadically through early December.
For the best opportunity to see and hear the elk, you’ll need to get to Peck Ranch early in the morning (as in right at daylight) or late in the evening.
While there are several side roads on the property which fall under the “Elk Tour Route” label, I’d recommend staying in the lower valley along Road No. 1. After going there dozens of times, I can honestly say I’ve never seen an elk from any of the northside roads. In fact, the only upper area which seems to consistently have elk is near the end of Road No. 6 on the southern half of the area. That’s really no surprise because it’s where the initial elk transplants were held in a pen to acclimate to the region.
By the way, Peck Ranch is closed during managed deer hunts, and there are two coming up: Oct. 26-28 and Dec. 7-8. On those dates, you might try finding elk in the Chilton Creek/Waymeyer area along Highway M, north of Van Buren.
Missouri’s elk, while wild animals, are surprisingly tolerant of approach by vehicles as long as you go slow and don’t make a lot of noise.
It’s also important to remain in your vehicle. While the elk are used to sightseeing traffic, the minute you step out of the car for a better photograph, they’ll head straight into thick cover, and that only ruins the experience for everyone else who may be there.
Speaking of photographs, you should of course take a camera along, preferably one which can shoot not only photos but also record video. Nothing fancy is needed, though a good telephoto lens which lets in a lot of light in helps. Even without such equipment, you still can get decent photos with a cellphone.